8 Things You Probably Aren’t Recycling — And How You Can

Bike, printer and laptop
Bike, printer and laptop
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What types of materials come to mind when you think of recycling? My first thought is always paper and cardboard, closely followed by the other items that pass through my hands daily: plastic, tin and glass containers. When you encourage your kids or partner to sort items at home for recycling, these are the types of things you focus on. The same goes for corporate recycling schemes at your office: you probably have a box or bin specifically for waste paper.

But there are a number of other items that you might not realize you can recycle. These are all things which typically end up cluttering our basements and attics – or which we guiltily throw into the trash. We often don’t even realize that they can be recycled. Here are eight things you probably aren’t recycling … yet.


Batteries contain heavy metals and other toxic substances, and need to be disposed of safely: chucking them into landfills and incinerators can pollute the water and air.

One way to seriously reduce the number of batteries you use is to get rechargeable batteries. The initial investment is a little higher – but you can recharge and reuse the batteries thousands of times. If you have battery-hungry electrical equipment, like a digital camera, you’ll be doing your bit for the environment and saving yourself some cash.

Some hardware stores will collect batteries for recycling or safe disposal. Where I live (in London, in the UK), our local council runs a scheme with used-battery collection points at all the local libraries. Find out where you can take your batteries locally, and get in the habit of doing so — don’t drop them in the trash.


Have you got an old bike gathering dust in the garage – or rusting away in the yard? Perhaps you upgraded to a new machine because you were sold on all the great benefits of cycling, and you weren’t sure what to do with the old one. It might not be the most obvious item to recycle, but your old bike could be of real use to someone.

The charity Bikes for the World collects old bikes and bike parts, using them to change lives:

Bikes for the World donates bicycles and related material … to selected non-profit agencies in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and just about anywhere they are needed and delivery is feasible.  These bicycles provide affordable transport to individuals for use in getting to work and school, or to in providing health and education services to low-income rural people.

(Who We Benefit, Bikes for the World)

Alternatively, if your bike is in good condition and you could use some extra cash yourself, list it in local classified ads — try Craigslist. If that’s too much hassle, why not simply ask around among friends and relatives? You might well find someone who can put your bike to good use. Some local bike shops also sell second-hand models, so try asking there too.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)

CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, which means they need to be disposed of safely. Your local hardware store may let you drop off your used CFLs there: if not, you can find a list of places in the US and Canada that accept CFLs for recycling on Lamp Recycle. The site explains that:

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and with other energy-efficient lighting such as linear fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID) lamps contain a very small amount of mercury, an element essential to achieving energy savings.


If you wear glasses, don’t let old pairs gather dust in the bottom of a drawer. Spectacles can be recycled to help people who desperately need them:

Poverty and the lack of skilled opticians affect millions of people who do not have the spectacles they desperately need. For those in the developing world with poor vision, education and employment are out of reach. Many find daily living difficult and dangerous.

(About Us, Vision Aid Overseas)

In the US and Canada, the Lions Club International collects glasses as part of their program to improve the site of children and adults around the world, and they provide a list of recycling centers here.

Ink Cartridges

Printer ink and toner cartridges can be recycled, and you may even find that your new cartridges come with a handy postage-paid bag to let you recycle the old one. If not, try your local Staples store: recycling your cartridges could save you some money on new ones!

We offer $3 in Staples Rewards toward a future purchase of ink or toner when HP, LexmarkTM or Dell cartridges are returned to our retail stores for recycling. We also offer our InkDrop® service for our customers. When a cartridge runs out, customers simply drop a new one in the printer and mail us the empty using the prepaid shipping materials. We send a replacement automatically, and all shipping is free.

(Recycling, Staples Soul)

As well as recycling your used cartridges, consider buying refilled ink cartridges for your own use. I’ve never been able to convince my printer to accept these, but you might have more luck!


We’ve all got items of furniture that we don’t use, or which are broken. Rather than hiring a skip, find a way to recycle your unwanted bookcase, table or chairs. Many charities, or thrift stores, will take old furniture — the Salvation Army is probably the best known.

You could also advertise used furniture on Craigslist: chances are, someone in your local area would love to take it off your hands. As with bicycles, ask around among family and friends, or at your church; someone who’s hard up, or a young couple moving in together, might be very grateful for that old table or those mismatched chairs.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones contain a number of hazardous substances, like mercury, lead and arsenic. With technology advancing at a rapid rate, most of us have a few clunky brick-like mobile phones in a junk drawer. If you upgrade your phone regularly, consider donating your used phones to charity: they could make a real difference to someone in the developing world.

CollectiveGood attempts to recycle donated phones back into reuse here or in the developing world, where they serve useful, longer lives and offer affordable communications, in many cases offering families their first modern communications. This helps bridge the digital divide, improving the quality of life for people in the developing world, and even helps grow their economies.

(FAQs, CollectiveGood.com)


Have you got a clunky old desktop in the attic, or an ancient laptop with a dud battery? Like mobile phones, computers are constantly becoming faster, quieter and cheaper — and many of us have one or more outdated models lurking around, especially with the rise in popularity of home offices.

If you’ve got an old computer that’s in good shape, you could format the hard drive (to wipe personal data) and sell it locally. In many cases, old computers won’t fetch much: one simple way to get some cash is to use Gazelle, who’ll pay for old machines — reusing them if possible, recycling the components if not:

Too often when people think of recycling, they rush straight to smashing things into bits for parts. We believe that reuse should always come first. If your GPS unit still works, why not keep it in circulation AND get paid for it?

(What We Do, Gazelle)

Has the above list given you any ideas for a clear-out? What odd or unusual items have you managed to recycle? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments!

(Image by *Sally M*)

8 Replies to “8 Things You Probably Aren’t Recycling — And How You Can”

  1. great tips, thanks! people (in the US at least) can also consider using Freecycle to get rid of old furniture & other household items; eye doctors will sometimes take old glasses – ask next time you get your eyes checked; and I noticed that my local Whole Foods has a bin for collecting old cell phones. Some local municipalities have drop-off points for electronics recycling. It just takes a little bit of effort to keep things out of the landfill.

  2. I really like this post. I would like to see more posts like this for i.e. plastic hangers etc.

    FYI for people who might have been like me looking for somewhere to recycle plastic bags. Walmart recycles them!

  3. good post but the problem i am having is theres alot of these items in africa how can i get them to recyclng agencies

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